Women in science

Encarni Montoya coring an Andean lake in Ecuador.

Opinion piece published on 11th February in the blog "ecology of the past".

First of all, I would like to clarify that the next post is just my personal opinion, not related to any institution or colleague involved in my research. Spoiler alert: there is nothing written here that I have not commented with any research colleague, don’t expect to find here any revelation. However, it is hard to believe the scarcity of notes published about this topic from the people who suffer it, making more difficult to find comprehension outside the scientific community, and even sometimes from inside.

This morning, a friend that works in the European Commission in Brussels has congratulated me because it seems that today (11th February) is the International Day of Women in Science.  Well, it is a completely valid congratulation as I am a woman and I work in science. I am also aware that making an international day of pretty much anything is a very fashionable thing to do nowadays. However, besides honouring past figures, I am not really sure what this celebration is about and I would like to express my personal opinion on the subject. Moreover, this piece has a particular focus on my own experience of science in my country of origin, Spain.

My first thought when I have read the congratulation has been: yes indeed, today it is a day that I could celebrate because I am one of the luckiest people for having a job in what I love to do (research). And then, I have started thinking in my not-as-lucky colleagues as me. Besides the gender, working in research sometimes needs more of believing in faith than in proper science. Especially when more than working, the issue to achieve is to continue being a researcher, or what I call, basic survival. I mean at least in paper, the management and bureaucratic tasks that you have to do in a research contract would give enough material for an entire new post. Needless to say, research (as many other careers) is a very demanding job, without any king of knowledge about the meaning of words such as legal working hours or holidays. Also, it is quite common to move for a long time between temporary contracts. These contracts can go from just a few months till two-three years in the best case scenario (there are few calls of 5-years contract addressed to senior researchers, that is, people with more than 8 years after PhD jumping between shorter temporary contracts). Regardless the duration of the contract, currently there is a huge unbalance between the quality of the contract offered and the quality of the candidates. The economic crisis of the last years (and the advantage that some governments have taken from this as an excuse for budgets’ cuts) has caused the disappearance of many calls, and this has resulted in over-qualified people (that should be already with permanent positions) applying massively to not as qualified jobs. It is not a case of people sponsored by big names in science overtaking better candidates anymore (which has been a common practice and unfortunately is not completely eradicated yet); it is just that there are too many excellent people for too few job opportunities. But as I have said, sadly these two characteristics are not different than other jobs or careers. Research has the additional input of mobility, which can arrive to extreme levels depending on the country. For instance in Spain, mobility between different institutions within Spain (regardless the international quality of the labs or the range of techniques learned) is not considered normally as mobility. As anyone may imagine, the combination of factors (lack of contract stability, extreme moving and demanding work-hours) makes a bit difficult to settle down personally and have a proper private life. There are people completely fine with this life-style, but others don’t and here is when the problems start.
During life in academia, you have the opportunity of meeting many people from different countries and with different cultures, mainly through the attendance to international conferences. It is what we call “networking”. This is especially important for young people, because they have the chance of sharing their research topics and to ask for external opinion, to check the new techniques/developments and directions of the discipline, and to make new contacts to explore further contracts/ collaborations. During the just 10 years that I am working in this, I have attended many conferences and have met plenty of wonderful people. Also during these years, I have met plenty of people that could not attend any conference because they didn’t have any kind of economic support (e.g., PhD studentships) and were working in completely unrelated jobs to have some funding to work in research in their “free-time”. Most of these people are no longer in research because they didn’t have the opportunity of networking. I am 34 years old, and now, during the last years, I am also finding coeval colleagues attending the conferences to say goodbye to everyone because they have decided that they want to have a family. Let me please be clear here: it is not because they are not excited anymore about their research, it is just and only because they can’t reconcile both aspects of the same life. And this, is a serious gender problem because all my personal examples, refer to women. This issue is amusing as my discipline in particular is mostly represented by women during the PhD stage. But surprisingly, as you move forward in academia anyone can easily appreciate that permanent researchers (including university professors) are mostly men (there is plenty of literature and graphs about it).

From my huge job-market ignorance, I can see here at least two problematic issues: First of all, I can’t think about any other job in a developed country where you have to choose that dramatically between being a mom and being a worker (in terms of continuing doing your job with the same quality as you used to do). I am not saying at all that any single woman that works in research has had to give up in her parenting desires; there are females researchers with and without children and females non-researchers with and without children, the problem is when you are not living your life as you would like it because of your work, or vice versa. And secondly, there is a problem of re-location: most of these women are around their mid-thirties, which mean that they have more than 10 years of experience in research if we include the PhD. And research is nowadays, a highly specialised field. On one hand, for an experienced researcher is not easy to find a job not related to research where the skills acquired through time fit. And on the other hand, if found, there is high chance of not getting the job as the person who offers the job might be concerned about the possibility of the researcher quitting the job if a potential opportunity in research arises. I am not even going to start with the “tiny issue” that in many jobs’ interviews, people still ask (especially to a woman in her mid-thirties) if she is thinking in having children or has already family responsibilities.

At the end, they are again in a crossroad: if they want to have children they may give up in research, but maybe they are not going to have a job anyway because time ago they started in research. So, what this people should do? Is there any real solution considering the current system? My friend is right, I am the luckiest person today, not because I have a job in a dismantled country for young people, nor because I am a woman in science, but probably just because I have never had to decide between which part of my life do I wanted to live and which do I had to silence, did I? Anyway, my most sincere congratulations to people related to science: women, men, survivors or not. I hope you enjoy today in the life-style you all decided to live.


2015 SPA - Mireia Peral - Dynamics of double-polarity subduction: application to the Western Mediterranean

[This post is participating at the 2015 Student Presentation Awards at ICTJA]

Plate tectonics describes large-scale Earth’s lithosphere motions through a number of thin rigid lithospheric fragments (plates) that are in motion relative to each other. The relative velocities of the plates are around 5 cm/year and most earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and orogenic belts occur in regions where different plates are in contact (plate boundaries). This study focuses on convergent margins, in particular on subduction zones, that place where two plates collide and one (commonly known as slab) moves under the other sinking into the mantle.

Figure 1. Scenario of the Western Mediterranean
 evolution (figure from  Chertova et al., 2014).
 Blue triangles indicate  the direction of 
subduction and the yellow arrows indicate the 
movemet of the plates.
The motivation of this work lies on the recent geodynamic model proposed by Vergés and Fernàndez (2012) to explain the evolution of the Western Mediterranean since 85 Ma. This model is based on the interaction of two plates which are characterized by opposite direction of subduction (double-polarity subduction). Our objective is to analyze the dynamic feasibility of this process and its consequences through a 3D numerical model.

The dynamic evolution of the Earth at large temporal and spatial scales, as subduction processes, is modeled as a flow problem and requires advance numerical techniques and high computation times. Numerical models of viscoelastic flow in 2D/3D have been developed to understand the dynamics of tectonic plates in large timeframes. The final model consists of two plates subducting into the upper mantle and the problem is driven by the density contrast between the lithosphere and the mantle beneath.

Our numerical results indicate that 2D and 3D single (one plate) subduction models with the same configuration result in similar slab morphologies. Anyway 3D models (because of taking into account the three dimensions) produce a faster subduction. In addition, a preliminary double subduction model, in which the two plates are separated 100 km one from the other, has been calculated. Comparing it with a single subduction model we observe slight differences in the subduction velocity and in the slab morphology near the contact area. We are currently checking the sensitivity of the double subduction models to modification of the space between the two plates and to different velocity boundary conditions. Moreover the lateral contact between the plates, the effect of temperature and geometries applicable to the Western Mediterranean region will be considered in future models. Finally, analogue models will be done in order to compare them with numerical solutions.

Figure 2. Time evolution of a 3D double polarity subduction model with a lateral separation of 100 km between plates.

This work is supervised by Manel Fernandez (ICTJA-CSIC) and Sergio Zlotnik (UPC, Barcelona) and is part of the project “Testing the geodynamic evolution of the Western Mediterranean (We-Me), financed by the CSIC as “Proyecto Intramural Especial” PIE-CSIC-201330E111.

2015 SPA - Mireia Peral - The use of gravity gradients from GOCE satellite data in interpreting major crustal and lithospheric structures: application to the Iberian Peninsula

[This post is participating at the 2015 Student Presentation Awards at ICTJA]

Gravity is used in geophysics to study the Earth’s interior. Gravity prospecting measures variations of the Earth’s gravity field in order to find out density contrasts. In 2009 the European Space Agency (ESA) launched GOCE satellite (Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer) aiming at determine  both Earth’s mean gravity field and geoid with high accuracy and spatial resolution. The satellite was equipped with an innovative Electrostatic Gravity Gradiometer that measures spatial variation of gravity (gravity gradients) in the three dimensions. This study has been done with the objective of analyze the information provided by gravity gradients and finding out the minimum features of geological structures that may be studied using GOCE data.

Gravity gradients, although characterized by less power signal, carry more information about geological structures than gravity measures alone. Gravity gradients are calculated over the Iberian Peninsula from a global gravity field model. We study the correlation between these signals and the topography of the region, as each gravity gradient component provides us specific information about geological structures.

On the other hand, the potential of GOCE data is studied by forward modelling of gravitational fields using the Tesseroids software. Gravity gradients produced by several synthetic models are computed and compared with the uncertainty of GOCE data. Varying some parameters of these prisms such as dimensions, depth and density, we identify the main characteristics of geological structures that could be detected by GOCE satellite. We find that the smallest dimensions of the structures that still generate enough signal in the vertical component vary from around 22.5 x 7.5 x 2.5 km if the density contrast with the surrounding media is 500 kg/m3 to 49.5 x 16.5 x 5.5 km if the density contrast is 50 kg/m3, with a maximum burial depth of 40 km. Moreover, a synthetic rift model (divergent plate boundary) is implemented in order to observe the gravitational gradient field generated by a common geological structure. Our results indicate that typical rift structures can be detectable by GOCE satellite.

Figure. Gravity gradients of the three main components computed at 255 km mean satellite altitude over the Iberian Peninsula region. a) gxx: horizontal component in the North-South direction. b) gyy: horizontal component in the East-West direction. c) gzz: vertical component.

This work is supervised by Manel Fernandez and Montserrat Torne from the ICTJA-CSIC, Barcelona.


2015 SPA - Maria Jesus Rubio de Inglés. The Evolution of the North Atlantic Oscillation for the last 700 years inferred from D/H isotopes in the sedimentary record in Lake Azul (Azores Archipelago, Portugal)

[This post is participating at the 2015 Student Presentation Awards at ICTJA]

Spanish people are concerned about the existence of the Azores High Pressure since Mariano Medina (“weather man”) introduced this term on the TV weather forecast around 1958. At these southern latitudes, this expression has been associated to pleasant weather conditions but, a persistence of these conditions are linked to severe droughts in the westernmost areas of the Iberian Peninsula. But, what does it mean?
The Azores high pressure is a part of a complicated atmospheric system formed by 2 centers of action. This dipole is formed by a high pressure cell in Azores and a low pressure cell in Iceland. This atmospheric pattern is called the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) and it is defined as the pressure difference between Azores and Iceland. The NAO is responsible of the winter weather in Europe and North America.
Owing to the importance of this climatic phenomenon in Europe and nearby areas, we have gone to the crux of the southern center of action to reconstruct the NAO index for the last 700yr from lake sediments. If the high pressure cell is intensified and over Azores archipelago, the precipitation decreases. And, the precipitation increase with a weaker or shifted high pressure cell.
The precipitation gets recorded in the sediment in many ways but, in the present work the hydrogen isotopes have been used. Water molecule is composed by two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen. The hydrogen contained in the water can be lighter or heavier depending on the number of neutrons. The gravity force makes heavy water molecules fall first than light molecules. But, if the rainy episode continues, the light molecules will fall. In other words, short rainy periods record heavy hydrogen isotope signal and long rainy periods record light signal. Since the positive phase of NAO is related to driest periods, these periods will be marked by a heavy hydrogen isotope signal.

The analyses every half centimeter in the sediment core retrieved from Lake Azul disentangle the NAO effects over Azores. This reconstruction shows a multidecadal oscillation of the NAO phase for the last 700 year. Other authors (such as Trouet et al., 2009) found a persistence of a positive phase during the Medieval Climate Anomaly (MCA) followed by a trend towards negative phase during the Little Ice Age (LIA). We do not observe these patterns in our record despite that, similar fluctuations are observed. This could be because, since all the NAO reconstruction reflects the effects not the NAO itself (which is defined as pressure), those effects can vary between sites or be affected by other patterns. Then, we can conclude saying that we are reconstructing the NAO effects for the southern dipole of the climatic phenomenon.  

This is part of the project PaleoNAO. The supervisors of this phD thesis are Santiago Giralt (ICTJA- Environmental changes in the Geological Record department) and Alberto Sáez (UB- Stratigraphy, paleontology and marine geoscience department)

2015 SPA - David Cruset - Crestal graben fluid evolution during late growth stage of the Puig-reig anticline (South Pyrenean fold and thrust belt)

[This post is participating at the 2015 Student Presentation Awards at ICTJA]

Hello, my name is David Cruset and I am in the first year of my PhD in the Institute of Earth Sciences Jaume Almera - CSIC. The topic of my thesis is the fluid migration in the South Pyrenean fold and thrust belt, from Late Cretaceous to Oligocene. To deal with this objective, I will do petrographic studies and geochemical analyses of the products related with fluid flow and the structural characterization of the structures where these products were formed. The interest of this thesis is that fluids are important because they are responsible of heat and matter transport and are involved in ore deposition and hydrocarbon accumulations. In addition, the study of the diagenetic products related with fluid migration can shed light on the geodynamic evolution of a basin or orogen.

Fig. 1 Geological cross section of the frontal part of the South Pyrenean fold and thrust belt.

As a preliminary step, during the last year I have been studying the fluid flow in the Puig-reig anticline, one of the structures of the frontalmost part of the South Pyrenean fold and thrust belt (Fig. 1). This work shows how during the early folding deep hot meteoric fluids circulated along inverse and strike-slip faults, whereas during the main stage of folding cooler meteoric waters percolated downwards the normal faults formed by collapse of the crest of the anticline (Fig.2). This study reports the controls of fracturing on the palaeohydrology of folds during different stages of their evolution.

The comparison of the obtained results with those obtained in previous works by other authors in nearby areas will allow us to perform the fluid flow model of the frontal part of the South Pyrenean fold and thrust belt.

Fig. 2 Schemes of the structural and fluid flow evolution of the Puig-reig anticline. Red and blue arrows indicate fluid movement. No vertical exaggeration. A) Fluid flow during the early folding. Hot evolved meteoric fluids migrated along the main faults and more permeable sedimentary units. B) Fluid flow during the main stage of folding. During this event, local meteoric fluids circulated downwards the normal faults formed by outer arc extension and mixed with the evolved meteoric fluids. 

This work is supervised by Dr. Jaume Vergés (Group of Dynamics of The Litosphere - GDL, ICTJA - CSIC) and by Dr. Anna Travé (Grup de Geologia Sedimentària, Department of Geochemistry, Petrology and Geological Prospecting - UB). 


2015 SPA - Mar Moragas Rodriguez - Influence of diapir growing in carbonate deposition: The Central High Atlas Jurassic Rift Basin (Morocco)

[This post is participating at the 2015 Student Presentation Awards at ICTJA]

All of us use oil, gas, and plastic, which is a product deriving from petroleum. Oil and gas (hydrocarbon) are stored in the subsurface (between 1 and 6 km); in rocks (reservoirs) that have voids in which these fluids can be contained. At these depths, it is difficult to know where we can find these raw materials. Thus, we carry out field studies to have a better understanding of geological systems comparable to those where hydrocarbons might be emplaced.

In the present work we focus on a specific reservoir type: Carbonate deposits. Imagine a coral reef that you know very well from wildlife documentaries, they produce carbonate which later on will result in carbonate rocks; but are they distributed everywhere in our planet? No, nowadays they are mainly located in shallow marine environments with warm waters. Light, temperatures, water depth, amongst a large amount of other factors, control their development and demise and of other carbonate production factories. Patterns of carbonate platform development and deposition are generally complicated on diapiric settings. Diapirs are a type of geological structures formed due to the upward movement of mobile and less dense material (salt or shales) through more brittle rocks. Diapir growth and rapid salt movements cause high variability of carbonate distribution patterns and hampers the predictability of where we can find them.

In order to have a complete picture of the evolution of diapiric basins and the distribution of carbonate deposits, different study methods (structural, sedimentological, diagenetic, amongst others) are applied on Jurassic-aged diapiric structures located in the Central High Atlas, Morocco. The study of this area allows us to characterize the carbonate deposit associated to diapirs (carbonate type, thickness and length of carbonate units,...) and to understand the influence of diapir growth on the carbonate deposition.

This study is funded by Statoil Research Centre, Bergen (Norway), by the Spanish Ministry of Education and Science (MEC) through the projects Intramural Especial (CSIC 201330E030), MITE (CGL 2014-59516). We are grateful to Statoil for its support and permission to publish this research.


New visiting student: Chiara Amadori

Ciao, my name is Chiara Amadori, from Pavia Univ., and i just landed at the Lithosphere Dynamics dept. of ICTJA-CSIC, for a 3 moths stage with Daniel Garcia-Castellanos.

The main topic of my 3-years phD project is to create a 3D-model (3D-Move, by Midland) of the Po Plain-Northern Adriatic foredeep basin, defining the clastic distribution pattern during Plio-Pleistocene and its petrographic properties in order to understand the provenance source area. 
The dataset, entirely provided by Eni E&P, is composed of more than 5000 regional seismic profiles, base Pliocene TWT-surface, hundreds well logs and thin sections. 
During this first year, other 5 TWT-surfaces have been traced, describing also the lithologic facies transitions into the basin.
The model includes also the recent topography (DEM 1:10) and fluvial drainage pattern of the area, to compare the position of fluvial incisions along Western Southern Alps to the Late Messinian-Pliocene buried canyons.
To do that we need first to model the flexural subsidence of Late Messinian-Pliocene surface, decompacting the pre-Messinian sedimentary succession and removing the Northern-Appennines lithospheric load at least.
This flexural modeling will be conducted in collaboration with CSIC-ICTJA under the supervision of Daniel Garcia-Castellanos.

Master Thesis, Roma Tre University, 2013/2014: "High-resolution stratigraphy of the pre-evaporitic/evaporitic transition in the late Messinian Adriatic foreland domain"
Tutor: Cosentino D. Co-tutor: Florindo F., Caruso A., Cipollari P.

Ph.D, University of Pavia, 2014/2015: "Architecture and provenance of Plio-Pleistocene Po Plain-Northern Adriatic Basin: controlling factors, petrographic evidences and consequences on facies tracts and petrophysics of sand bodies."
Tutor: Di Giulio A. (Pavia U). Co-tutor: Toscani G., Fantoni R. (Eni)


Conferencias de divulgación geocientífica (50 aniversario del ICTJA)

Con motivo del 50 aniversario de nuestro instituto, cuatro investigadores del ICTJA participamos en el ciclo de conferencias divulgativas en Barcelona: "Las Ciencias de la Tierra en nuestra vida cotidiana", dentro del Cicle Dilluns de Ciència del CSIC-Catalunya.

Lugar: (mapa)
Sala d’Actes de la Residència d’Investigadors,

La conferencias de divulgación son los siguientes lunes:

2 Novembre, 18:30 h,
Charles Darwin, Lord Kelvin, els radioisòtops i el concepte de Temps
Dr. Santiago Giralt

9 Noviembre, 18:30 h
Tambora, 200 años de la erupción que cambió el Mundo
Dra. Adelina Geyer

16 Noviembre, 18:30 h
Megainundaciones, placas tectónicas y la formación del relieve terrestre
Dr. Daniel García-Castellanos

23 Novembre, 18:30 h
Interacció radiació-matèria per a estudiar-ho gairebé tot: nanomaterials, minerals exòtics, obres d’art, cadàvers,...
Dr. Jordi Ibáñez